I’ve been looking forward to spending the summer with the boys for months. The expanses of time, free from the tyranny of the school schedule and scene, the swaths of space to swim through… summer symbolized all of this and enticingly so. We have some lessons and activities lined up, the cottage, playdates, park dates, outings like Legoland, but there’s also a lot of room for us to be and explore together. I love this for myself, but I feel like it’s nice for the boys too – good, grounding connection – it’s important for all of us.
Except. It hasn’t really been like that. Well, we’re having some good days now, but there have been some serious rough patches along the way. For starters, my two older boys, 8 and almost 6, are kind of tearing each other to pieces. The other day, I watched from the kitchen as my older son kungfu kicked my middle son with moves that looked like something out of a clandestine video of police abuse or a violent video game – in other words, depressingly real – as was seeing my middle son predictably drop to the ground doubled over.
In addition to the physical aggression are the little snubs, the unkind words or intentions, the bickering. Why are they like this to each other? There just seems to be so much energy going into these casual woundings. We can come home from a full day out and about, and so soon after our attentions come back to each other, the irritation begins.
Inevitably, I am trying to sort out why. Here are the reasons I’ve thought up so far.
1. We are in transition. School and after-school activities present a high level of stimulation, and our summer days less so. We are adjusting to a new pace, and the new pace together, since during school my boys are not together as much.
2. We need to develop new rhythms. Whatever else school may or may not do, it provides a very clear structure to our days and weeks. Life is more fluid now, maybe this will be less rocky with more routine.
3. I need to be more present. I’ve been working on a new project and we’re making space for it. I still spend lots of time caring for the children and doing things with them, but I’ve been more distracted than usual when I’m with them. This is a fairly significant shift, as I really prize being present with the children and in my life in general. I’m optimistic that I’m already swinging out of this mental blurriness, and bringing back my attention to the moment.
4. I have no earthly idea. Really, sometimes when the arguing is so tenacious and the desire to clash so strong, I don’t have a clue why. Maybe it has to do with testosterone. Maybe I’ve raised them wrong from day one. Maybe this is what’s necessary to make them the strong, sensitive, self-directed men I audaciously pray they will one day be. I do not know.
For the first time, I feel like the strength of my presence is not really enough to keep them at bay. I suppose it’s just a matter of time before this happens in one way or another and it’s only natural for children (people?) to push limits, but still, feeling pushed around isn’t much fun.
This dynamic peaked the other night. Interestingly, the boys weren’t actually fighting with each other at the moment I became exasperated, but the bathroom had been trashed after bath and they were completely ignoring me while getting wilder and wilder. I had had it. I didn’t even really lose it, but I had reached a limit and everyone knew it. I couldn’t be with them anymore and said as much, telling them to get to bed by themselves. No stories before sleep, which truthfully hurts me at least as much as them; I cherish it as our sacred time and I almost never erode that. They tried to apologize but I was too annoyed to hear it at first. I relented (ie, felt miserable ) enough to hug them both before bed, but was still upset.
The boys said before going to bed that they would have a surprise for me in the morning, but when I woke up (awfully early) to banging in the kitchen the next day, I had forgotten what the boys said and couldn’t account for all the noise downstairs. Two boys were soon by the bed and then leading me down the stairs to this:
The requisite explanation: it’s breakfast. They mixed my uber-healthy chia cereal into yogurt for five minutes (it needs to soak and soften), then added some honey and vanilla. they halved and sectioned the grapefruit, something they until then claimed they were incapable of doing for themselves. (I offered them some, and was impressed when they stoically refused, even though they love grapefruit and this was our last one.) Adorning the food are two watercolours from the day before (as is the image of the wild wolf that introduces this post), along with two paper airplanes.
All was forgiven of course, and long before the breakfast was made, although it was an awfully nice way to start the day/rest of summer. I was very glad the boys sought to make amends, and more glad to see them do it together. I have no illusions that the squabbles of everyday are a thing of the past, but it’s good to know that in a pinch, my kids can pull together to make a solid team.
So I suppose there’s nothing left for me to do but do the same. If a good part of the summer of 2014 is comprised of just figuring out how to be together, then so be it. I have the feeling that, flawed though we all are, still we are, more or less, doing our best. I try to remember that as we face the day which, as we all know, ought to start with a good breakfast.